March 2, 2006

Thoughts on Tuesday's governor's debate

We've already established that the Daily article/video combo on Tuesday's U-DFL-sponsored gubernatorial debate is pretty skimpy on useful detail or thoughtful analysis. Luckily for us, MN Campaign Report, who was liveblogging the debate (I logged him in to the network!), has a great post summing up the points the candidates made for each question. That means I won't waste time writing my own summary, and I can just dive into my own thoughts on how it all went down. Here goes:

I'd seen Steve Kelley and Becky Lourey before at U-DFL meetings, and their debate styles were consistent with their stump-speech personas: Kelley the practiced, polished politician; Lourey the overtly (and sometimes overly) enthusiastic grandmotherly type. Kelly Doran was a pleasant surprise for me. I'd seen his billboard on 35W, but didn't really know much about him. Turns out he is a pretty good speaker (I can't say "debater," because, despite its billing, this wasn't much of a debate.) He plays the role of the sensible, no-nonsense, non-partisan moderate very well. As I mentioned before, Doran had the applause line of the night (if there had been any applause in the entire debate): "My generation is doing a pretty good job of trying to screw your generation. And that's wrong."

The format of the debate was somewhat confusing for me as an audience member, and doubtless even more confusing for the candidates. At first, the candidates, especially Sen. Lourey, had trouble staying within the 1-minute time limit for the specific questions. Later, the moderators (Kelly and Noah) opened it up to more general 15-minute discussions of topics (environment, health care, education, and "effectiveness and vision," or something-- the candidates had trouble defining this one.) I think the intent was to allow an actual debate where the candidates could interrupt each other, but they either didn't catch on or didn't want to appear too combative by interrupting, instead opting to pass the speaking duties down the line. Only once did things get even remotely snippy, as Steve Kelley took a swipe at Kelly Doran, saying that he (Mr. Kelley) wouldn't presume to step directly into the management of a real-estate company (Doran is a wealthy developer)-- the clear implication being that Mr. Doran doesn't have the experience in state government to be an effective leader, while Sen. Kelley believes he does. Doran popped back by saying that the Founders envisioned private citizens stepping up to serve their states and nation, and that he'd like to believe that state government isn't so complicated that he can't manage it, especially with his business experience. [aside: MNCR says "Doran was NOT ready for Kelley's comments"; I disagree. His response was logical and well-delivered, and, if delivered in the right setting, would have opened up Kelley to criticisms of being a "lifer." Then Doran could make the case that he's just the "breath of fresh air" that MN needs. But I digress.]

In my opinion, there wasn't a clear "winner" in this debate. But I did learn a lot about the candidates. Becky Lourey is definitely the most liberal candidate in the race, and she seems to have the most concrete plans of any candidate, especially on healthcare. She obviously has a great grasp on the policy details of the health-care debate, as her appearance at our U-DFL meeting made clear (she spent probably close to 30 minutes detailing her health-care plan, which was great, but she went into such detail-- this type of account vs. that type, what she did with her businesses, etc.-- that none of us had any idea what she was talking about.) She has been a strong voice for programs like MNCare-- and is one of the founders of that program. But Lourey needs to learn to better communicate her ideas. Many times, she ran over her allotted time, or launched into digressions that seemed to have no relevance to the topic at hand. These stories are told with a grandmotherly exuberance that is charming, but in the wrong audience, she could come off as a less-than-serious candidate. I enjoyed her ending story: she told of being called an "F.B." (think curse words) by a veteran over an anti-flag-burning amendment that she opposed, and then later finding him crying in the hallway because, apparently, her words in defense of freedom of expression had made him see why he had fought for his country- to protect these very freedoms. However, it had absolutely no relevance to the topic of "effectiveness" or "vision." She also repeated her joke that she is the only candidate that has had her arm up to the elbow in the uterus of a cow. I think it's a funny story. I also have a sick, morbid sense of humor. Is Minnesota ready for such an incendiary anecdote?

Kelly Doran is a pretty good speaker. He effectively stayed within the time limits, and didn't make any huge gaffes. Rather than going into specifics of his plan, Doran tried to connect his general political beliefs with examples from his own life and business career. (Examples: when speaking of the need to support the University, he revealed that he had paid his own way through the U back in the day; in stating that Pawlenty's "greatest mistake" has been that he lost touch with where he came from, he brought up his own family background of growing up in a single-parent household without a lot of money. He also connected a lot of his policy stances to his experience in the business world.) I think this is a style that could appeal to a lot of voters, especially independents. I'd have to review the Doran campaign's policy specifics, but as of now, I would not have a problem voting for Doran in November, if he makes it past the primary.

However, barring some last-minute change of heart, I will be voting for Steve Kelley in Tuesday's caucus.
He is the only candidate that has promised to abide by the DFL endorsement, which I appreciate. I also liked his views to the effect that conflict in politics is OK, as long as it's constructive. He understands the need to build a broad base for the DFL, and believes that being partisan is a good way to encourage participation. He also praised the state DFL because "we can't be rolled over like the national party," as they proved in the last session. I generally agree with Kelley's positions, but even more, I believe he is the candidate that can successfully appeal to progressives, moderates, DFLers, He is definitely the most polished campaigner of the three.

It would appear that Kelley has quite a bit of momentum going into the caucuses: He won the DFL straw poll last weekend, and appears to have more traction against Pawlenty than Hatch does :

2/20. Likely voters. MoE 4.5% (1/16 results) Pawlenty (R) 40 (47) Hatch (DFL) 45 (44)

Pawlenty (R) 42 (46)
Kelley (DFL) 42 (37)

(Rasmussen poll, via Kos)

He's moved up 5 points, while Hatch shows no movement. And this despite the fact that AG Hatch, perennial candidate for governor and publicity hound, doubtless has better name recognition than Kelley. Also remember that Hatch never shows up to anything. In fact, he doesn't appear to be doing a whole lot of anything. I mean, I'd vote for the guy if he ends up with the endorsement, but he needs to prove he is going to put the work in to deserve it.

Overall, I was impressed with all three candidates. I would not have trouble voting for any of them. We've got to get Pawlenty out of office. ...and that's the end of that chapter.

Posted by smit2174 at March 2, 2006 6:19 PM